A Touch of Light
by Thiago Abdallah
The worthy are immortal. To die is a sin. But in a tide of madness and ruin, life is a fragile thing.
Lynn, a rogue griffin rider, has uncovered a deadly madness that threatens to destroy the Domain. She can’t escape this enemy, but to fight it, Lynn must risk being found and branded a traitor by her old order.
Prince Adrian has never been pious or on good terms with his father. After losing those closest to him, however, he must either work with the king or convince the Church to deem his loved ones worthy if they are to have a chance at resurrection.
In the clanlands, where death is considered a necessity, Nasha fights to prove she belongs. A cursed hunter and a lifelong outcast, she has always struggled. But when the land itself begins to wither away, Nasha might be the only answer.
The Ashes of Avarin is a sprawling epic fantasy series where religion and politics are one, griffin riders roam the skies, and a looming blight threatens to tear everything down.
SPFBO8 – Our Reviews
I got this book last year and it has been sitting on my bookshelf impatiently for a good while. Why I left it this long I don’t know. But thanks to SPFBO and receiving an ARC for book two in this series, A Shade Of Madness, that got my ass in gear and made me realise, why oh why did I leave it this long!?
Set in the world of Avarin, we follow three protagonists who are experiencing three very different journeys whose friends and families, and their very homes, are under threat from an unknown force, manifesting itself as a madness in people and turning them into ferocious, mindless killers. This is an epic fantasy tale with griffins, airships, where magic is often feared, religion is embedded in the socio-political structure and events are happening that could bring about the collapse of civilisation.
Thiago has created a rich and varied world, establishing the continents, countries, culture and military structure in wonderful detail. Something I really enjoy when reading fantasy is having the world unfurl through the characters eyes, through their journey’s and Thiago has achieved this brilliantly. There are no large info-dumps or needless exposition, we experience and learn about the world gradually as the story progresses.
The book has three POVs and that is Adrian, a prince of one of the Domain nations, desperately trying to save his love from death in a culture where grief is forbidden, Lynn, an elite warrior called a Sentinel, who has been running from the past and plagued by the voices of her dead friends and Nasha, a hunter who has a terrible curse who is trying to prove her worth to the clan Ronar. All their stories run separate, none of the characters meeting in this book, but the threat that looms over the world of Avarin, is shared and experienced by all three POVs and this brings a lovely cohesion to the book. Lynn’s story was my favourite, learning about who the Sentinels are, their magic system and culture, which derives from a Bond with their griffin, was such a cool concept and she is just a badass woman with some exhilarating action sequences.
The magic in this book, as briefly mentioned above feels fresh and unique, and there are different kinds, the sentinel magic is different to the curse, or gift, that Nasha manifests. Thiago keeps some of the magic detail quite abstract, but since this is book one of a series, I think he will reveal more as we go along. Again, I like the ‘show not tell’ approach that the author takes.
If I have one criticism, and it is more of a personal gripe, than a technical problem, is that I sometimes got a bit lost with what was happening in the Nasha arc as there are lots of different clans and people and what Nasha was experiencing with her curse/magic was sometimes a little too abstract for me to connect with. On the other hand, her arc was incredibly exciting.
The last 100 pages moves like a freight train with one of the most thrilling finales I have experienced in a while. All three POVs end in a cliff-hanger of sorts, which I know isn’t everyone’s bag, but I love them. I just made me itch to start book two immediately. Which I did.
Thiago presents us with three richly layered and deeply flawed characters, each fighting their own demons, each trying to find their way in a harsh and sometimes unforgiving world. The theme of death, our relationship with it, the suppression of grief and our need to honour the memories of the dead looms over the entire story and makes for a fascinating exploration. Thiago writes with a confidence that far exceeds that of a debut and kept me riveted page after page.
SPFBO Score: 9 out of possible 10.
First of all, congrats to Abdalla for becoming a SPFBO8 finalist! Not an easy accomplishment and one well earned.
A Touch of Light has been on my TBR for what feels like ages now – before being entered in the SPFBO8 contest- and I’m very excited to be able to say I finally got to it. The world this story takes place is fascinating; religions that either demonize or embrace death, a plague that turns people into mindless killers, and warring political factions across many nations. Plus gigantic griffins with riders (always a plus).
You can tell that Abdalla put a lot of love into the development of Avarin and the powers that control it. For me, the worldbuilding really shines in the intersection of power between politics and religion. Anyone who know my reading tastes knows that I love when religion is discussed as a source of control within a society instead of just a belief system and that is done wonderfully here. Convincing the masses to sacrifice or kill for the good of a higher power is a core part of human history (and present) so it’s fascinating to see it unfold on the page.
However, the pacing of the plot and character arcs felt a bit off to me. The style of this book is to give the reader piecemeal bites of information through the characters eyes as they move throughout the world. This can be a very effective storytelling technique and I understand why Abdalla chose this route, but for me these pieces were too slow to move/fall into place. To the point where the plot felt repetitive at times; I mostly felt this with Nasha’s chapters. I certainly don’t need all of the information in the first installment of a series, but a bit more groundwork would have been helpful for my reading experience.
Unfortunately, another side-effect of this style was that the characters felt more like avatars for the plot rather than people I could connect to and grieve for (aside from Lynn who I cared for deeply). As a character-based reader, this did dull the emotional impact of some revelatory scenes, but if you are more plot-driven I don’t think this will be an issue at all.
Overall, I blew through this read every time I sat down with it as I wanted to know what happened next and found the world captivating to be in. I am very much interested in continuing with the series and seeing how all the political threads are woven together with the plot twists revealed in the next installment.